At 20 years old, Lezo Urreiztieta seemed to have his priorities straight. He attended the University of Arizona on an academic scholarship, competed in a sport that he loved and was wholly dedicated to his family.
“He still kissed his dad and his mom, he kissed his brother,” said Michelle Gerard, one of Urreiztieta’s high school coaches.
“It wasn’t like he was embarrassed; it was like it was just something that you did. You don’t see that a lot with high school boys and college boys nowadays.”
Urreiztieta, a junior hurdler and aspiring doctor, died Saturday at University of Arizona Medical Center due to complications following brain surgery. Urreiztieta checked into the hospital Thursday to fix a pre-existing brain condition, friends said. His brain swelled following surgery, causing a series of strokes.
The UA announced his death Saturday morning. By the afternoon, friends and coaches were remembering him as popular, bright and warm.
“I loved this kid so much,” Arizona coach Fred Harvey said. “He is the epitome of a student-athlete. He may have never been an NCAA champion, but he could compete at the highest level of the Pac-12, which is a very strong conference.
“He had so much to give. I can tell you this with absolute certainty: If you didn’t like Lezo, you need to get yourself checked out. He was popular. He was a great teammate. It’s just such a tragedy; he had so much he wanted to do.”
UA athletic director Greg Byrne said in a statement that “the unfortunate passing of someone so young and full of life affects us all. He was an excellent student, in addition to being a valued member of our track team and the Arizona Athletics community.”
As a sophomore last season, Urreiztieta had a personal-best time of 8.18 seconds en route to winning the 60-meter hurdles at Lumberjack Team Challenge in Flagstaff. During the outdoor season, he had a season-best time of 14.89 in the 110-meter hurdles at the Jim Click Shootout before suffering a season-ending foot injury at the Mt. SAC Relays.
Also last year, he was named to the Pac-12 All-Academic second team and was a 2013 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation All-Academic selection for the indoor season.
Urreiztieta attended and competed for Canyon del Oro High School; he was on the Star’s All-Southern Arizona first team in 2011.
Longtime CDO track coach Rick Glider said Saturday that Urreiztieta was one of the best 110 hurdlers the Dorados had in his 20-plus years of coaching.
As a senior in 2011, Urreiztieta helped the Dorados to a second-place finish at the Division II state meet. He won the state title in the 110-meter hurdles in 14.70. He also finished sixth in the 300 hurdles in 40.49.
“I remember him winning the state title, just a couple years ago in the hurdles,” Glider said. “His efforts were one of the reasons we finished second at state. He was a team leader and a fantastic kid all around. He was willing to help out whenever possible, willing to work hard and was a coach’s dream.
“It really hurts, it really does. You’d be proud to call him your son.”
The sentiment was echoed by UA football player Jared Tevis, who tweeted Saturday that his fellow CDO grad was “a great kid and will be missed by many.”
“Couldn’t have happened to a stronger and more loving person/family,” Tevis wrote.
Urreiztieta is survived by his parents, Izaro and Melissa, and a brother, Gaizka, who is also a UA student. Services are pending.